State law enforcement leaders are praising a late-session deal that will provide funding to manage the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS) and pay for new radio handsets for first responders who work for state agencies.
State lawmakers passed implementing language that cited “the critical nature of the statewide law enforcement radio communications system,” and found there is “an immediate danger to the public health, safety, and welfare, and that is in the best interest of the state to continue partnering with the system’s current operator.” The direct result was a 15-year renewal contract with L3 Harris that emerged in the closing days of the 2021 Legislative Session that will deliver a refreshed and upgraded radio network with increased capacity and extended radio coverage at a significantly lower cost than originally expected.
Last year, the state attempted to award the contract through a competitive bidding process but Motorola walked away from a $679 million contract, leaving state officials scrambling to provide reliable radio communications to law enforcement agencies across the state.
First responders are counting on the new deal to improve communications between state agencies and even local police departments, according to Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Robert Jenkins, which represents a number of local police departments across the state, as well as the statewide Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).
“We provide mutual aid. When we have hurricanes in one part of the state, we send officers to help people in those impacted communities,” Jenkins said. “That’s why it’s critical first responders have interoperability between radio systems.”
With the state’s existing contract set to expire in just weeks, the state would have been forced to take over maintenance of current SLERS network, without the expertise to do so. But the solution to the problem soon became apparent, with L3Harris agreeing to provide a long-term management solution for only a fraction of the cost of a previous contract. In addition to providing administrative and technical management of the statewide system, the contract calls for an upgrade to L3Harris technology that will enable the state prepare for the transition to a nationwide compatible system in the coming years.
The deal also includes funding for new handsets, a critical part of the deal.
“The current system is 15 years old,” said Jenkins. “Buy a computer today, tomorrow it’s no good. Florida Highway Patrol and other state agencies operate in remote areas, often without backup. New, reliable radios are critical. This is a step in the right direction.”
State lawmakers viewed a renewal with L3Harris as the smoothest possible path forward for law enforcement and first responders, in part because L3Harris provides a “one radio solution,” compared with competing products requiring some law enforcement personnel to carry two different radios depending on where they are located, and during the system upgrade and transition, which could have also required a potential new vendor.
In the end, the funding difference between the original contract and the renewed deal with L3Harris proved decisive. Payments under the 15-year renewal will be hundreds of millions of dollars less than the previously awarded 25-year winning bid of the prior procurement, and which was abandoned after the winning bidder refused to sign the contract. In addition, last year’s bid did not include the purchase of radios, and the new renewal agreement lowers the annual operations and maintenance fee paid to L3Harris by about $3 million per year.
Over the past two decades, the SLERS partnership between the state and L3Harris is viewed by law enforcement and state officials as one of the most successful public-private partnerships in Florida history. Over the last 10 years SLERS has been through 15 hurricanes and 10 tropical storms and has never gone offline.